New Yorker music critic Alex Ross writes about Alain Badiou's Five Lessons on Wagner (mistakenly presented as co-authored with Slavoj Žižek, who wrote the lengthy afterword). In his substantial essay on Wagner's Ring in the New Yorker Ross agrees with both Badiou and Žižek that in Wagner's music can be found the possibilities of a different world and a new politics.
Wagner's music is marked by a constant tension between a will to power and a willingness to surrender. The contradiction is not one that we should seek to resolve; rather it is integral to the survival of the composer's work. Because we can no longer idealize Wagner, he is more involving than ever. This idea animates Five Lessons on Wagner, a recent book of essays by the philosophers Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. The latest in a long line of thinkers who have tussled with Wagner, Badiou and Žižek try to revise the prevalent picture of the composer as a proto-Fascist - the phrase was "virtually invented to describe Wagner", Badiou says - by heightening his paradoxes. In Wotan's monologue, Badiou sees a pivotal moment in which "power and impotence are in equipoise"; that paralysis creates the possibility of a different world. He goes on to paint the "Ring" as a mythological tale that annuls, one by one, the consolations of mythology. Žižek sees in Brunnhilde's sacrifice the hope for a new kind of politics - a space of selfless action beyond the failed ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Wisely, Žižek does not spell out what these politics might be. The music offers hope, nothing more.
Visit the New Yorker to read the article in full (subscribers only).
Also check out Alex Ross' excellent blog, The Rest is Noise.
Žižek and the Jacobin spirit unite in the latest installment of Jacobin magazine. In their Summer 2011 issue, the young quarterly publication known for its consistent quality and invigorating critical spirit will feature a timely excerpt from the new paperback edition of Slavoj Žižek's Living in the End Times.
The excerpt, part of an extensive new afterword written especially for the paperback edition, explores the de-fetishisation and de-mystification of both violence and democracy as necessary conditions for revolutionary Truth.
A more fundamental question might also be raised here: why does the revolutionary Truth-Event entail violence? Because it is enacted from the symptomal point (or torsion) of the social body, from the point of impossibility of the social totality-its subject is the "part of no-part" of society, those who, although they are formally part of society, are denied a proper place within it. This is society's "point of truth," and to assert it, the whole structure whose point of impossibility this point is must be annihilated, suspended. For exactly the same reason, as Lenin correctly perceived, the truth is revolutionary-the only way to assert it is to bring about a revolutionary upheaval in the existing hierarchic order. Thus one should oppose the old (pseudo-) Machiavellian idea that truth is impotent and that power, if it is to be effective, has to lie and to cheat: as Lenin claimed, Marxism is strong insofar as it is true. (This holds especially against the postmodern dismissal of universal truth as oppressive, according to which, as Gianni Vattimo put it, if the truth sets us free, it also sets us free from itself.)
Slavoj Žižek argues in the New Statesman for a binational state in Israel & Palestine - the "simplest and most obvious solution" to the conflict.
Highlighting some disturbing instances of racism (and sexism) in Israeli society (such as the 2007 poll that showed that over half of Israeli Jews believe intermarriage is akin to "national treason"), Žižek makes the key point that:
What makes these campaigns so depressing is that they are flourishing at a time of relative calm, at least in the West Bank. Any party interested in peace should welcome the socialising of Palestinian and Jewish youth.